By the way, all of the summer nominees for the Lit Blog Co-op are being introduced this week, including my nomination of Edie Meidav’s daring and brilliant novel Crawl Space. Here’s a bit of what I say:
Some antiheroes are more anti than others. Emile Poulquet, the antihero of Crawl Space, is a Vichy war criminal and an absolute of his kind. Poulquet is a man divided along seemingly a hundred internal fault lines, and so too will be the reader of Edie Meidav’s rich and troubling novel, a searching inquest into the banality of evil. A provincial bureaucrat during the French Occupation, Poulquet was complicit in the deportation of thousands to Nazi death camps. Now, decades later, his face surgically altered, his conscience rattled but intact, he is on the run from the authorities and drawn like a moth to a flame to his old prefecture of Finier.
Poulquet is not clearly remorseful; if guilt dogs him at all, it manifests itself in self-pity and what he calls a cousin to guilt, the desire for vindication. “What did that mean, anyway, ashamed,” he asks. “Shame depends wholly on others. Who cared if I toted shame around like some battered private trophy, proof of my inner good, my bewildered soul? Wasn’t it more heroic to wander the world lacking an audience, the society of brothers and sisters which shame and its absolutions automatically offer the renegade?” Indeed, his crimes are so great and his name so despised that it’s hard to imagine anyone in his position could own them directly and fully. Poulquet’s relationship to personal agency is so troubled that he carries around a small pendulum to decide everyday questions such as where to go and what to eat. His relationship to his hated name is similarly fraught; as the novel proceeds, he increasingly refers to himself in the third person and scrambles to remove instances of “I” from the last will and testament he carries around with him. Meidav depicts with authority–with virtuosity and unlikely beauty–the gnarled consciousness and wizened moral sense of this unrepentant war criminal, who loathes himself and his pursuers in equal measures but in different modes. It’s a thoroughly haunting portrait.
There will be a week of discussion of Meidav’s novel at the LBC site next week, including author and nominator podcasts. The group’s Summer selection is Michael Martone’s inventive Michael Martone.